Review: Cooler and faster
The Geforce GTX 780 is the currently fastest single GPU graphics card from Nvidia, if we don’t take the Geforce Titan into account, but the Titan officially is not part of the GTX 700 series and its price proves it.
On the other side AMD does not have an appropriate answer to the GTX 780, at least not yet, but we could see one in a matter of hours. AMD’s new top tier card is just around corner and once it hits the shelves it will not only fight against the reference Nvidia GTX 780 design, but also against many other great non-reference cards including Gainward’s GTX 780 Phantom which we’ll be reviewing today.
The Gainward GTX 780 Phantom Goes Like Hell (GLH) is based on a slightly altered GTX 780 PCB design and it comes paired up with a custom cooling solution. Of course we are talking about the Phantom cooler which is definitely a looker with great performance. New Phantom cooler has slightly a changed design compared to the previous generation used on GTX 680 cards. The most visible difference is that the fans can be easily removed much like hard drives from a hot swap bay. We’ll take a closer look at the cooler a bit later on.
The Geforce GTX 780 is a pretty impressive card even in its plain vanilla reference edition. The next picture shows Gainward GTX 780 which is just loosely based on the reference design.
The GTX 780 has 12 active SMX blocks out of a total of 15 SMX blocks in the GK110. It has 2304 CUDA cores and even the Titan isn’t the full GK110, as it has 14 active SMX blocks. It is possible that Nvidia still has an ace to pull out of its sleeve and come up with something even faster if AMD manages to cook up a new single GPU card which is faster than the GTX 780, or even faster than the pricey Titan.
Specification wise the GTX 780 ended up with 50% more CUDA cores than its predecessor, the GTX 680, and this among some other things gives the GTX 780 card a significant performance boost, although the GK110 is based on the Kepler architecture of GTX 680 fame. The GK104 chip used in the GTX 680 has “just” 1536 CUDA cores. There’s more memory bandwidth, too. The GTX 780 has a 384-bus while the GTX 680 is limited to a 256-bit interface. The frame buffer was upped from 2048MB to 3072MB GDDR5 memory. The memory speed on both cards is 6008MHz. Note that the Gainward GTX 780 Phantom GLH comes with factory overclock which raises the memory clock by 50MHz (effectively 200MHz GDDR5).
Memory overclocking is vital in any attempt to squeeze out more performance from a graphics card, so we are happy to see that Gainward upped the GPU clock by 200MHz at a time when many Nvidia and AMD AIBs are choosing to overclock the GPU exclusively, leaving the memory on reference clocks.
The Geforce GTX 780 also features the same GPU Boost 2.0 technology used in the GeForce GTX Titan, giving gamers more advanced controls for overclocking, fan control, and hardware monitoring.
The Gainward GTX 780 Phantom GLH works at a 980MHz base clock, while the reference GPU base clock is set at 863MHz. Nvidia's GPU Boost 2.0 takes on average the GPU clock to 900MHz for the reference GPU and to 1033MHz for the Phantom card.
The GTX 780 has a TDP of 250W and thus it needs a 6-pin and 8-pin power connector.
The packaging is huge but has nice design. It features a carrying handle, along with a transparent window and a plenty of descriptions and specs for the discerning shopper. In the box you’ll find:
A User Guide,
Quick Installation Guide,
A small note about PCIE 3 compatibility,
HDMI to DVI Dongle,
DVI to VGA Dongle,
1x 6-pin to 8-pin Power Adapter.
Previous generations of Geforce reference designs featured relatively noisy coolers, thus making non-reference cards with custom cooling a lot more appealing. Things have changed for the better, as the reference GTX 780 cooler is pretty good, as it doesn’t compromise on noise over performance, at least not until you overclock GPU. An overclocked GPU generates more heat and the reference cooler starts to get louder while trying to keep temperatures below 80 Celsius, which is by the way desired threshold set in the GPU Boost 2.0 algorithm.
In order to keep noise in check while cooling factory overclocked GTX 780 card with a 104MHz factory overclock for the GPU Gainward slapped the new Phantom cooler on top of its card.
Gainward decided to use the baseplate to strengthen the PCB and provide better cooling for the memory chips and MOSFET.
A combination of 6-pin and 8-pin power connectors is necessary to keep the show going. The card uses an OnSemi NCP4208 voltage controller and the TDP for the reference card is 250W. The VRM features an eight phase PWM design for the core and two phases PWM design for the memory. Gainward also offers a workaround on the voltage limits.
The card has 3GB of GDDR5 memory, courtesy of Samsung (model K4G20325FD-FC03 specified to run at 6000MHz GDDR5 effective). All the memory modules at the front of the PCB are tucked away underneath the reinforcement plate. Sadly, the rear of the PCB features no backplate, which is not important for the performance but would make overall design much more visually appealing.
As far as video outs go, what we have here is the classic Gainward Quattro-port design, i.e. two dual link DVIs, HDMI (1.4a compatible) and DisplayPort out. Note that all four video outs can be used simultaneously. Nvidia included an HDMI sound device within the GPU, so there is no need to connect the card to your SPDIF out to get audio and video via HDMI.
The GTX 780 Phantom GLH is ready for multi-GPU action. In addition to standard dual-SLI, it can also be used in triple- and quad-SLI setups, as it features two SLI connectors. However the width (2.5-slots) of the GTX 780 Phantom GLH card may be its disadvantage.
In order to keep the overclocked GPU temperatures at bay, Gainward decided to use the Phantom cooler with a rather hefty heatsink. While Nvidia's reference cooler is quite good, Gainward certainly has a lot of confidence in its own version, but who would not knowing that this is a 2.5-slot wide cooler. However the width of the GTX 780 Phantom card may be its main disadvantage when it comes to enthusiasts prone to building three-way or four-way SLI systems.
The Phantom cooler is definitely a looker. We already had a chance to get acquainted with the new redesigned Phantom cooler. We saw it on Gainward’s GTX 770 Phantom where it manages to provide good cooling performance while generating low noise. The Phantom’s fans are hidden behind the heatsink so it may trick users into thinking that it’s a passive cooler. Still, if you peek through the heatsink fins, you’ll see silhouettes of the three fans. Note that the GTX 580 Phantom used three fans, but the GTX 680/670 Phantom used two fans. It seems that Gainward decided three fans were a better combination with the redesigned heatsink. After all, the TDP difference between the GTX 680 and GTX 780 is 55W, which might explain the decision.
Now for the clever fan trick we mentioned earlier in the review. The fans can be removed without removing the heatsink or messing with the wiring. You just need to undo a single screw and yank the fan out. It is a very elegant little trick.
The trick is in the integrated power connector inside the bay. You can’t fit the fan upside down as it uses a set of rails to guide it down to the connector. Three fans and a tons of fins attract a lot of dust, hence we really like this approach, as it makes cleaning the heatsink much easier.
Gainward uses Power Logic PLA8015S12HH fans with a maximum speed of about 2,900RPM. The same Power Logic fan was used in the GTX 770/680/670/660/580 Phantom cards.
If you decide to take the fan off it will void the warranty on most card. However, on the Phantom it won’t, and it makes maintenance much easier. Removing the whole cooler from the card will be an easy task too, and could be done by removing four spring-loaded screws from the card’s back side, but this will void the warranty.
Judging by past experience, the loudness of the Power Logic fans depends on the efficiency of the heatsink. A well designed heatsink makes their life easier, and the decision to use three fans should result in more airflow at lower RPMs. Aside from the GPU, the fans are in charge of cooling hot components on the PCB too, and on a 250W card there is no shortage of such components.
The next pictures shows how cable routing was implemented.
All three fans share the same 4-pin power connector. Setting the RPM manually is a breeze using Gainward’s ExperTool or any other popular utility like MSI Afterburner or PrecisionX.
The new Phantom cooler employs a five-heatpipe system to transfer heat between the cooler base and the heatsink. The 8mm heatpipes are curved a bit better than in previous Phantom coolers, so they don’t protrude from the cooler at any point. The welds between heatpipes and aluminum fins are accurate and look like they’ve been done very well indeed.
The GTX 670 Phantom did not feature a copper base, as it was made solely from aluminium. That was probably one of the main reasons it did not end up quieter than the reference GTX 670 cooler. Gainward went back to a copper base with the GTX 780/770, employing heatpipes to connect it to a massive array of fins.
- Motherboard: EVGA Z77 FTW
- CPU: Ivy Bridge Core i7 3770 (4.5GHz)
- CPU Cooler: Gelid The Black Edition
- Memory: 8GB Corsair DDR3 2400MHz
- Harddisk: Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB
- Power Supply: CoolerMaster Silent Pro 1000W
- Case: CoolerMaster Cosmos II Ultra Tower
- Operating System: Win8 64-bit
- Nvidia 327-23-whql
- AMD 13.8_beta2
Under load the GPU temperature hits 81 degrees Celsius. We got the exact same results with a reference GTX 780 card, but bear in mind that the Phantom GLH ships with a 117MHz GPU overclock, while the memory is overclocked by 50MHz. It is obvious that the Phantom cooler does a better job than the reference one. In idle we measured 31 degrees Celsius.
We were particularly impressed by the noise levels. The fans were nearly silent even under load, and of course while idling the card is completely silent.
In terms of power efficiency, we can report that the GTX 780 Phantom GLH can draw slightly more juice than the reference GTX 780. This is quite normal for one factory overclocked card. Overall, performance-per-watt is still good and it is on a par with the GTX 680.
The overclocking potential is good. We managed to push the GPU 130MHz over the reference clocks (by increasing the voltege by available +0.037V) and let’s not forget about factory overclock, either. The memory also produced good results with a total 200MHz (effective 800MHz) overclock.
The cooler is now more important than ever, due to Boost 2.0 throttling and dynamic thermal management. Had it not been for the Phantom cooler, we probably would see a 8-percent performance boost.
Previous generations of Geforce reference designs featured relatively noisy coolers, thus making non-reference cards with custom cooling a lot more appealing. This is no longer the case but there is a caveat though. In case the factory overclock is not enough and you really want to push the card to its limits, the reference cooler will be a lot louder than Phantom cooler. In terms of the performance the Phantom cooler still manages to stand out as a better solution to the reference cooler.
That’s where the Phantom really shines, as it is just as quiet as the reference cooler even with a nice overclock. Furthermore, it allows more overclocking headroom. Our additional 130MHz overclock resulted in an overall performance gain of 11 percent.
The GTX 780 Phantom GLH has 3GB of GDDR5, while the Titan ships with 6GB. Unless you have some very specific requirements, 3GB should be more than enough for comfortable gaming. The Titan isn’t much faster in 2560x1600 tests than the GTX 780 Phanotm GLH and it only makes sense for extreme resolutions and multi-monitor setups. It is a niche product, a thoroughbred, while the GTX 780 is a workhorse.
The only big issue we have with the GTX 780 Phantom GLH, and all new high end cards for that matter, is the price. The GTX 780 originally launched at €650, which was a bit more than its direct predecessor. Prices have gone down a bit and now a reference card can be bought for €570, while the Phantom GLH can be yours for €600. We can only hope that AMD’s new Hawaii cards will lead to a price war, as high-end cards are simply too expensive.
Our pet peeves aside, Gainward has done an outstanding job. The new Phantom cooler impressed us both in terms of performance and low noise, while the overall performance of the GTX 780 Phantom GLH is exceptional. The GTX 780 Phantom GLH has enough power to make your gaming silky smooth for quite a while.
Now it’s AMD’s turn. We’re waiting to see what the red team plans to unveil in Hawaii.